• urban areas;
  • urbanization;
  • rivers/streams;
  • gradient;
  • stress;
  • Mid-Atlantic;
  • Mid west;
  • Pacific Coast

Abstract:  This is the first in a series of three articles designed to establish empirically defined biological indicators and thresholds for impairment for urbanized catchments, and to describe a process by which the biological condition of waterbodies in urbanized catchments can be applied. This article describes alternative gradients of urbanization for assessing and selecting a nationally applicable biological index (article 2 –Purcell et al., this issue) and defining the potential of biological communities within a gradient of cumulative stressors (article 3 –Paul et al. this issue). Gradients were designed to represent the most prominent mosaic of stressors found in urban settings. A primary urban gradient was assembled based on readily obtained information of urbanization to include three broad-scale parameters: percent urban land use/land cover, population density, and road density. This gradient was used as the standard by which alternative urban gradients, which included fine-scale instream chemical and hydrologic parameters, were assessed. Five alternative gradients were developed to provide numerous environmental management options based on availability of data from water program resources. The urban gradients were developed with the intent that they be applied throughout the country; therefore, data from three different regions of the United States (Mid-Atlantic, Midwest, and Pacific Coast) were used to validate the urban gradient model. Our study showed that a relatively straightforward stressor gradient consisting of human population density, road density, and urban land use is useful in providing a framework for developing relevant biological indicators and evaluating the potential of biological communities as a basis for assessing attainment of designated aquatic life use.